Once again it is time to button mash that controller of yours ?Middle-Earth-style’ in the epic finale of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is a successful follow up to its predecessor, The Two Towers, but it adds more playable characters such as Gandalf, Frodo, and Sam, while leaving you with the three (standard) amigos; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli.
Along with the new characters available for your Orc killing, sword-swinging pleasure, you will be rewarded with tons of other goodies, too. For instance, tons of behind the scenes footage (narrated by Sir Ian McKellen), hidden characters, and a two-player co-op mode are also included. In addition to that, Playstation 2 users get to take the fight online! This hack and slash rendition of Return of the King drops you right in the middle of an enormous fight, leading you through 12 levels of blister inducing fun. Fans of the Tolkien trilogy will quickly find themselves engulfed in this game. Electronic Arts has done a superb job incorporating actual movie footage from The Two Towers and Return of the King, and the movie clips and actual gameplay blend seamlessly together, especially in the PS2 version. EA’s intention was obviously to give the player a chance to be an actual part of the epic journey through Middle-Earth, and they did an exceptional job in realizing that.
The visuals and sound have gained some improvement over The Two Towers, by enhancing more of the smaller details throughout. The characters look and move almost identical to the actors in the movies, while being surrounded by highly detailed backgrounds. Sound wise, it is hard to go wrong when incorporating the beautifully written and orchestrated music directly from the films. The music is often bombastic and serves to provide a progressive sense of urgency as you advance through the game.
Controlling your character is a breeze. The controls are tight and extremely responsive. As you advance, your character will level-up and be permitted to purchase new fighting abilities, which are all easily executed. The gameplay is smooth, too; even in intense battles, facing numerous on-screen enemies, you have a definite sense of control over what transpires. But, even so, be ready to restart some missions. The difficulty in a few of the levels can become extremely tough. As you progress, the fights get larger and the enemies stronger but, thankfully, you have checkpoints to auto-save the longer missions.
I did experience a few problems throughout Return of the King, though; the major issue being a few unfortunate choices made on the camera angle. On several occasions I lost my character in the middle of a fight due to visibility, or lack thereof. An option to rotate the camera or zoom in and out would have been a helpful addition. Unfortunately, that kind of flexibility is hard to incorporate in linear games. You are on one set path throughout your quest, with no side missions, and nothing to explore, other than a few hidden areas that are, for the most part, easily found. Return of the King also suffers due to its length; it is way too short. In fact, you may be able to beat the game in an hour or so less than it takes to watch the movie trilogy. Once you establish a firm grasp on the controls, you will easily be capable of plowing through the game’s 12 levels with all but minimal effort.
Even with the issues above, I still had a good time playing the game. Even if you are not a LotR franchise fanatic, you should still enjoy the experience for the solid action it offers. There is also some replay depth as well, due to the high number of characters you can take control of. And with the addition of co-op mode, you can easily add a few more hours of enjoyment in the company of your friends. If you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I highly recommend this game – even if just to rent. EA has done an exceptional job creating a game around the movie, and their efforts are certainly deserving of your attention. Any fan of the franchise or genre will find themselves right at home with Return of the King.